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Education Development Center and Urban Collaborative

22 Feb

 By Thomas Ultican 2/22/2021

A North Carolina resident asked “what do you know about the Urban Collaborative?” She was concerned about a company providing free airfare to school leaders in her child’s district; airfare to meetings in far-off cities. She wondered, “What is their motive? Is it more about money and power than special education?”

The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative was founded by Dr. David Riley, Educational Co-Chair of the Summer Institute on Critical Issues in Urban Special Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Riley was the Executive Director of the Collaborative until he succumbed to cancer May 2, 2016. The Collaborative is a national network of education administrators responsible for youth with disabilities in urban school districts. It is a national version of the Massachusetts Urban Project, a state-wide network that Dr. Riley founded in 1979. In 1994, The Education Development Center (EDC) expanded the Urban Collaborative into a national organization.

An October 1, 2019 announcement from Arizona State University stated:

“The Urban Collaborative has a rich history of collaboration with school districts — more than 100 in 25 states — committed to leading inclusive and equitable education. It has resources, sponsors and partners, consultants and data-driven review processes, and annual meetings of education leaders from the nation’s largest urban school districts.”

“This fall, the Urban Collaborative joins Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College [MLFTC]. It was formerly an initiative of the nonprofit Education Development Center.

Lauren Katzman, Urban Collaborative executive director, joins MLFTC as associate research professor.”

The Education Development Center

In 1956, Dr. Jerrold R. Zacharias an atomic physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) formed the physical science study committee (PSSC). Their goal was to make the existing uninspiring physics curriculum come alive. PSSC Physics became a national success whose methods were widely adopted.

Dr. Zacharias’s timing could not have been better. On October 4, 1957 the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite (Sputnik). This led to several rapid developments. In August of the following year, Education Services Incorporated (ESI) was created to market the study committee’s PSSC Physics. ESI went on to sell several books into the education markets. After a decade, ESI merged with the newly formed Institute for Education Innovation to become The Education Development Center (EDC).

Dr. Zacharias’s 1986 New York Times obituary noted,

“In World War II he helped make radar a reality for the Navy and then headed the engineering division of the Los Alamos atomic bomb project. Afterward, as director of the Laboratory of Nuclear Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he designed the first atomic clock, still the most precise tool for measuring time.

“But it was in remaking physics education that he left his firmest mark on American science. As President Kennedy said in 1961, Dr. Zacharias ‘started a revolution in science teaching in the United States.”’

Dr. Zacharias’s contribution to science teaching was probably over-hyped but at least it created a much needed positive story about public education. Since its beginning, public education in America, has experienced a continuous cacophony of misplaced derision.

  • In 1889, the top 3% of US high school students went to college, and 84% of all American colleges reported remedial courses in core subjects were required for incoming freshmen.
  • In 1940, the US Navy tested new pilots on their mastery of 4th grade math and found that 60% of the HS graduates failed.
  • In 1942, the NY Times noted only 6% of college freshmen could name the 13 original colonies and 75% did not know who was President during the Civil War.
  • In 1955, Why Can’t Johnny Read became a best seller.
  • In 1959, LIFE magazine published “Crisis in Education” that noted the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik because “the standards of education are shockingly low.”
  • In 1963, Admiral Rickover published American Education, a National Failure.
  • In 1983, A Nation at Risk stated, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

After every one of these dire but unfounded warnings, American society went on to lead the world in social, scholarly and cultural achievement. None of these claims held water. The great failure erroneously assigned to public education during Sputnik was no different.

Failing American education was blamed for the Soviets beating us into space. However, when Sputnik launched, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was pleased! He later stated, “We were certain that we could get a great deal more information of all kinds out of the free use of space than they could.” Sputnik established that the use of the heavens was open and free. To President Eisenhower it was an advantage. It meant that the US could use its superior scientific and manufacturing abilities to monitor and gather intelligence more successfully than the Soviets could.

The late Gerald Bracey wrote about the reality of the Sputnik fallout for Education Week:

“In late 1956, U.S. News & World Report had run an interview with historian Arthur Bestor, the author of ‘Educational Wastelands: The Retreat From Learning in Our Public Schools’, under the headline, ‘We Are Less Educated Now Than 50 Years Ago.’ Shortly after Sputnik, the magazine brought him back to explain ‘What Went Wrong With U.S. Schools.”’

Bestor declared that faulty education policy was “why the first satellite bears the label, ‘Made in Russia.”’ Countering Bestor’s statements,Bracey shared evidence that it was a command decision not education that led to the result. He wrote,

“Nazi Germany’s rocket genius Wernher von Braun, now the lead scientist of America’s Army Ballistic Missile Agency, was furious. At the time of Sputnik’s launch, the U.S. secretary of defense-designate, Neil McElroy, was touring von Braun’s operation in Huntsville, Ala. Von Braun, usually cool and politically savvy, lost it: ‘We knew they were going to do it!’ he yelled at McElroy. ‘Vanguard will never make it. We have the hardware on the shelf. For God’s sake, turn us loose and let us do something!’

“Von Braun did have the hardware on the shelf. On Sept. 20, 1956, more than a year before Sputnik, his group had launched a four-stage Jupiter-C rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The first three stages attained a speed of 13,000 miles an hour, a height of 862 miles, and a distance down range of 3,550 miles. The fourth stage could have easily slipped a satellite into orbit. But the fourth stage was filled with sand.”

There is substantial evidence that public school science education in the 1950s was not nearly so jejune as claimed. The 1999 docudrama October Sky tells the story of four high school boys from Coalwood, West Virginia. Coal miner’s son, Homer Hickman, was inspired by Sputnik and recruited three friends to take up rocketry with him.

A preponderance of science teachers has shown this film to their classes. It tells the story of four high school students engaged in scientific investigation and winning a national competition in rocketry. The movie highlights the wonderful encouragement and inspiration coming from their teacher, Frieda Joy Riley. In fact, Riley was so inspiring that The Freida J. Riley Award was established in her honor and is awarded annually to an American educator who overcomes adversity or makes an enormous sacrifice to positively impact students.

The PSSC physics curriculum has doubtlessly contributed to teaching high school physics, and like other successful curricular proposals the syllabus did address “an unmet need.” The EDC claims, “The Cold War and the emergence of the Russian space program in the late 1950s stoked U.S. concerns about a glaring national weakness in math and science.” The “concerns” certainly existed but achievement by the 1950s K-12 students testifies to how unfounded those concerns were.

Like so much of the slander endured by public education, the “glaring national weakness” claim was an illusion rather than “an unmet need.”

Tools of Corporate Education Reform

In the early years, the EDC was an organization making liberal ideology a reality. They developed a science curriculum specifically for the realities of Africa. They led a consortium of U.S. universities in founding the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. The EDC produced educational TV shows noteworthy for their African American and Latino casts. They engaged in educating village health workers in Mali.

Unfortunately, in the 1980s, EDC seems to have become distracted by power and money while it dove into education technology. The timeline cited above notes; in 1984 their Semantic Calculator won software of the year, in 1986 they won the same award with the Geometric Supposer, and in 1985 EDC acquired the Center for Children and Technology. In 2002 they founded the New Bedford Global Learning Charter School.

In 2018, EDC presented the inaugural EDC Impact Award to Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX. That same year they were publishing statements like, “As new technologies transform the workplace, programs such as the Amgen Biotech Experience and the STEM Learning and Research Center are preparing the next generation of innovators and inventors.”

The latest available non-profit tax statement for the EDC covers tax-year 2017. The statement reveals the large amounts of money going through EDC and a number of hefty “non-profit” salaries. In 2017, EDC raked in $155,645,130 and over $153 million of that came from their funders. It also lists the salaries for 12 employees all taking in well more than $200,000 for the year.

In 2004, EDC was presented a decade long General Services Administration (GSA) contract. The GSA contract certifies that EDC can meet competition, pricing, small business and other federal contract requirements for the services specified in each schedule. In schedule 874-4, 874-4RC Training Services EDC states, “Our EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) program, established in January 2000, provides effective online professional development for educators to improve online teaching skills and to streamline the process of incorporating online resources into their daily business practices.” By “daily business practices” they must mean classroom teaching.

Less is known about finances at the Urban Collaborative because they were part of EDC until 2019 and now they are receiving their grant money through an umbrella non-profit arm at Arizona State University. Like Stanford’s CREDO and the University of Washington’s CRPE, money is donated to a second party who then passes it on to these organizations. They are not recognized non-profits so there are no tax records specific to them.

The costs for school district memberships to the Collaborative are unknown, but in 2006 the costs were openly posted on the Urban Collaborative web site:

“Membership fees are based on the total student enrollment of the district. A graduated fee scale is applied to determine the number of senior-level administrators who receive Collaborative publications and reports, paid airfare to Collaborative meetings, and other Collaborative benefits at no extra charge.

 

“The annual fee for a school district with a total enrollment of less than 15,000 students is $2,400 (covers one district leader).

“The annual fee for a school district with a total enrollment of between 15,000 and 50,000 students is $3,800 (covers two district leaders).

 

“The annual fee for a school district with a total enrollment of more than 50,000 students is $5,000 (covers three district leaders).

“Districts may enroll additional senior-level administrators in the Collaborative for $1,500 per enrollee per year.”

The Urban Collaborative semi-annual meetings are underwritten by corporate sponsors hawking their wares. In the Collaborative sponsor’s brochure, it says, “Our national meetings provide unique opportunities for your organization to deliver its message to many of the nation’s most influential urban education decision makers, network with education leaders from across the country, as well as participate in meeting sessions.”  The companies listed in the sponsor’s brochure are mostly edtech companies like Scientific Learning, TeachTown and TeleTeachers.

 A Closing Comment

The relationships that Urban Collaborative fosters and the curricular development activities at EDC may have value. But sadly, these organizations have been corrupted by billionaire dollars and the lust for national prominence. They have lost their focus on improving public education and have become power players in the world of corporate education reform.

Fake Teachers, Fake Schools, Fake Administrators Courtesy of DPE

11 Apr

By T. Ultican 4/11/2018

The destroy public education movement (DPE) has given us Teach for America (Fake Teachers), Relay Graduate School (Fake Schools) and from the Broad Superintendents Academy (Fake administrators). None of these entities are legitimately accredited, yet they are ubiquitous in America’s major urban areas.

There was a time in the United States of America when scoundrels perpetrating this kind of fraud were jailed and fined. Today, they are not called criminals; they are called philanthropists. As inequitable distribution of wealth increases, democratic principles and humane ideology recedes.

It is time to fight the 21st century robber-barons and cleanse our government of grifters and sycophants.

Philanthropy in America is undermining the rule of law and democratic rights. Gates, Walton, Broad, DeVos, Bradley, Lily, Kaufman, Hall, Fisher, Arnold, Hastings, Anschutz, Bloomberg, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Dell and the list goes on. They have afflicted us with Teach for America (TFA), charter Schools, vouchers, phony graduate schools, bad technology and bogus administrators implementing their agendas.

Without these “philanthropists” and their dark money schemes none of this would exist. Public schools would be healthy and teenage suicide rates would be going down; not up. Instead we have mindless testing, harmful technology and teaching on the cheap.

This “philanthropy” is about profits, reducing tax burdens on the wealthy, imposing religious dogma and subjugation of non-elites. It is harmful to America’s children. The attack on public education was never primarily about benefiting children. It certainly was never based on concern for minority populations.

The Absurdity of Fake Teachers from TFA

 Over the last five years, there have been several wonderful books written on the politics of education reform and the best of them all have a chapter on Wendy Kopp and TFA. Diane Ravitch gave us Reign of Error, Dana Goldstein wrote The Teacher Wars and Mercedes Schneider produced A Chronicle of Echoes. I wrote a review of Chronicle. These three books are masterpieces of scholarship and research, however, my favorite book about the politics of education is Why You Always Got to be Trippin by Ciedie Aech which is a masterpiece of sarcasm.

The basic pitch of TFA has changed since Wendy Kopp’s 1989 senior thesis, “An Argument and Plan for the Creation of the Teacher Corps.” Later when creating TFA, Kopp reached out to the National Education Association (NEA). NEA VP, Sharon Robinson responded, “Even a suggestion that acceptable levels of expertise could develop in short termers simply doesn’t mesh with what those of us in the business know it takes to do the job – much less with what our young need and deserve” (Goldstein).

Kopp replied that the new teacher corps was merely “an emergency response to a shortage of experienced, qualified teachers” in high-needs schools, “and would therefore not be telling the nation that its inexperienced members were preferable to, or as qualified as experienced teachers” (Goldstein).

However, in 1997, Kopp founded The New Teachers Project now called TNTP and installed first year TFA alum, Michelle Rhee, to lead it. TNTP advertised itself as an agency helping people transition into teaching from other careers and also providing professional development to school districts. The Rhee led TNTP infamously initiated a relentless campaign of teacher-bashing. TNTP was virulently anti-teachers’ union and anti-tenure. Rhee inspired headlines throughout the country like these from California, State Needs ‘Lemon’ Law For Teachers, California Schools May Get Break from Bad Teachers  and Escape Hatch for Incompetent Teachers Closed .

The message was clear. Public education was failing because of bad teachers. TFA and TNTP offered the solution.

Mercedes Schneider described another TFA mission change:

“Though the TFA website notes that Kopp’s organization has ‘aggressively worked to grow and deepen [TFA] impact,’ Kopp’s initial push had nothing to do with placing former TFAers in educational leadership positions. By 2001, TFA began to clearly publicize its now-twofold mission: Yes, to continue to place ‘top talent’ in the classroom in two-year, Peace-corps style. However, in addition, TFA would enable those ‘teacher leaders’ to ‘force systemic change to ensure educational equity.’” 

Wendy Kopp was a child of wealth from the tony Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park. She attended Highland Park High with a predominantly white student body and a 95% graduation rate (Schneider). That graduation rate was before the current credit recovery fraud.

While at Princeton, Kopp became editor-in-chief of the student magazine “Business Today” which was founded in 1968 by Steve Forbes. Having a circulation of 200,000 in 1987, it could charge businesses $5,000 a year for advertising (Schneider). She demonstrated her ability to raise money and developed many personal contacts with important CEO’s while running “Business Today.”

After graduating with a BA degree in Public and International Affairs, she went to New York to start her Peace-corps styled non-profit. Kropp’s first grant for $26,000 came from Exon-Mobil. Union-Carbide gave her free New York office space. She sent fellow Texan Ross Perot her business plan and he came through with a $500,000 challenge grant which helped TFA raise an addition $1.5 million. Her first hire was a friend of her brother’s, Whitney Tilson (Goldstein). Tilson would later create the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER).

Early on, there was serious push-back against TFA by education professionals. After observing the TFA summer training in 1990, Education Professor Deborah Appleman called it “ludicrous.” In 1994, Linda Darling-Hammond, then a researcher at Columbia University’s Teachers College, excoriated TFA for being “a frankly missionary program” that elevated the resume building of its recruits over the educational needs of poor children (Goldstein).

Because of this pushback and Kopp’s lack of management training and experience, TFA went through a series of existential crises. Schneider noted, “Despite the financial and organizational issues and bad press, Kopp managed to scrape by and carry TFA with her into the new millennium.”

Schneider also wrote about improving the financial fortunes at TFA,

“…Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy-League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase. No more insolvency issues for Wendy Kopp and TFA.”

 The money that came in is truly staggering to contemplate. Here is one paragraph from Diane Ravitch:

“When the U.S. Department of Education ran a competition in 2010 for the most innovative programs in education, with four top prizes of $50 million, TFA was one of the winners (the KIPP charter chain, headed by Wendy Kopp’s husband, Richard Barth, also won $50 million). In 2011, a group of foundations led by the Broad Foundation made a gift of $100 million to TFA. In the same year, the Walton Family Foundation – one of the nation’s most conservative foundations – pitched in $49.5 million, the largest single education grant made that year by a foundation committed to privatization. TFA also received federal funding through AmeriCorps grants and an annual congressional earmark of $20 million. In the five years from 2006 to 2010, TFA raised an astonishing $907 million in foundation grants, corporate gifts and government funding.”

TFA has been remarkably successful everywhere except in the classroom. These temporary teachers with virtually no training nor experience are not ready to run a class. Because a large percentage of TFA teachers do not stay past two years, it is impossible to run long term studies of their effect on students. However, it is well known that TFA induced teacher churn harms children. Today, a significant number of charter school teachers come from TFA.

Ciedie Aech faced some of the most virulent forces of the DPE movement while teaching in Denver, Colorado. Her comments about TFA are both amusing and prescient. She wrote,

“Good teachers; well, good teachers, and oh surely this was obvious – even glaringly self-apparent in the fast pace of magical days devoted to a truer national compassion: Good teachers? – Were young.”

 “Oh, those Teach-For-A-Minute girls, he now declared snidely. Really, who was surprised? Everybody knew: You couldn’t count on them.”

 “Despite their designated unreliability; despite, even, their surely ungrateful lack of loyalty for stoically sticking around and “taking” the abuses created by an ever-shifting, funding-lucrative reform – huge numbers of these oft-labeled undependable Teach-For-A-Minute girls (and oh, yes, a lesser number of surely just as undependable Teach-For-A-Minute boys) were now being ever more massively produced.”

 “As a journalist followed the teaching year of a suddenly deployed troop of Teach-For-A-Minute miracle workers, ultimately, he found only one greenhorn to be exceptionally able. (And so many others who were both frighteningly and disastrously unprepared.)”

Charter Industry Has Created A Fake Education Graduate School

The well-known blogger, Peter Greene AKA the Curmugducator, has a knack for colorfully and accurately summarizing creepy agendas. He concludes an article about Relay Graduate School:

“Reformsters have managed to build and fund an entire alternate education universe in which they make up their own credentials, their own schools, their own entire system built on a foundation of nothing but money, connections, and huge brass balls. There’s never been anything like it since hucksters pitched medicinal snake oil off the back of a wagon, and it would be kind of awesomely amazing, like watching a python consume an entire elephant– except that instead of an elephant, this parallel shadow system is gutting public education in the communities where it is most needed.”

The Alliance for Philadelphia Public schools learned that their schools were using training materials from Relay Graduate School (RGS). Kate Peterson, a graduate student at Arcadia University, investigated Relay’s founders and programs for Alliance. Her policy brief apprised,

“Relay Graduate School of Education is a stand-alone school based in New York City. It began as Teacher U in 2007, when Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP Public Charter Schools, and Norman Atkins, co-founder of Uncommon Schools, decided to develop a program that would supply their charter schools and others with high-quality teachers, which they deemed as scarce. They partnered with the founder of Achievement First, Dacia Toll, to create their program. Receiving $10 million from Larry Robbins, founder of the hedge fund Glenview Capital Management and current board member of Relay, and $20 million from the non-profit The Robin Hood Foundation, the three charter school leaders partnered with Hunter College in New York to implement their program ….

 “In 2011, it was renamed Relay Graduate School of Education and was granted a charter by the New York State Board of Regents ….”

Peterson also pointed out that the lack of scholarship and experience in education among the three founders. She wrote,

“Based on their backgrounds, it is apparent that all three charter and Relay founders have little education and training in teaching. Atkins opened a charter a year after graduating with a M.A. in educational leadership with little to no experience teaching. Levin founded KIPP two years after working for Teach for America with no formal education in teaching as well. Toll too founded a charter a year after graduating with her J.D. and teaching certificate with very little experience in education. After founding these charters, they did not go on to be teachers in them, but rather managers of them. Thus, Relay’s founders began a teacher training program without much formal education and experience in teaching themselves.”

Mercedes Schneider took another look at RSG this March (2018) and began her piece,

“Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose “deans” need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

There are now fifteen “deans” of RSG each running a stand-alone campus that they themselves founded. Mercedes notess that twelve of the fifteen have light teaching experience with TFA and also reports on the qualifications of all the “deans.” She concludes with:

“There you have it: 15 “deans”; no Ph.D.s (but one almost); no bachelors degrees in education; no refereed publications, and not a one “dean” qualified for a tenure-track position in a legitimate college of education. But who needs legitimacy when you can franchise yourself into a deanship?”

The Unaccredited Broad Superintendent Academy Trains Public Education Destroyers

Eli Broad, estimated to be worth $6 billion, made his fortune by building two fortune-500 companies, KB Homes and Sun America. He is a product of public education but is determined to privatize the system.

The Broad Academy is an unaccredited administration training program for school leaders run by the Broad Foundation.

Broad’s theory is that public school administrators and elected school boards lack the financial background to run large organizations. Motoko Rich’s Times article explained, ‘“The new academy,’ he said, would ‘dramatically change this equation’ by seeking candidates in educational circles as well as recruiting from corporate backgrounds and the military, introducing management concepts borrowed from business.”

In her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch related what she learned about Broad’s thinking during a 2009 meeting with him. She wrote,

“He believes that school systems should run as efficiently as private sector enterprises. He believes in competition, choice, deregulation, and tight management. He believes that people perform better if incentives and sanctions are tied to their performance. He believes that school leaders need not be educators, and that good managers can manage anything if they are surrounded by smart assistants. Broad told an audience in New York City in 2009, ‘We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that. But what we do know about is management and governance.’ The Broad education agenda emphasizes the promotion of charter schools, the adoption of corporate methods for school leadership, and changes in the way teacher are compensated.”

Broad is rich so his ideas about education – which are based on little beyond opinion – are taken seriously. He has created an administrators school that ignores 200 years of public school and scholarly experience. It is ludicrous that any state would accept this kind of training as legitimate. Unfortunately, graduates from the fake Broad academy are working in school systems across America.

Past Time to Say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

Fake School

Time to stop the bi-partisan theft of public education from Americans. Stop fake teachers entering classrooms. Stop fake administrators doing damage like Deasy in LA or Bersin in San Diego or Wilson in Oakland or White in Louisiana or Bobb in Detroit or Klein in New York or etc. Perpetrators of a fake graduate schools are criminals. Temporary teachers with no credentials, no training and no experience are a hoax. Billionaire trained administrators are a menace. Time to end this charade.

Relay Graduate School: a Slick “MarketWorld” Education Fraud

18 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/18/2019

Relay Graduate School of Education is a private stand alone graduate school created and led by people with meager academic credentials. Founded by officials from the charter school industry, it is lavishly financed by billionaires.

Contending that traditional university based teacher education has failed; Relay prescribes deregulation and market competition. Relay does not offercoursework in areas typical of teacher education programs—courses such as school and society, philosophy of education, and teaching in democracy ….” Rather, Relay trains students almost exclusively in strict classroom management techniques.

Ken Zeichner is one of America’s leading academics studying teacher education. In a paper on alternative teacher preparation programs he noted that Match Teacher Residency and Relay “contribute to the inequitable distribution of professionally prepared teachers and to the stratification of schools according to the social class and racial composition of the student body.” Zeichner clarified,

“These two programs prepare teachers to use highly controlling pedagogical and classroom management techniques that are primarily used in schools serving students of color whose communities are severely impacted by poverty. Meanwhile, students in more economically advantaged areas have greater access to professionally trained teachers, less punitive and controlling management practices and broader and richer curricula and teaching practices. The teaching and management practices learned by the teachers in these two independent programs are based on a restricted definition of teaching and learning and would not be acceptable in more economically advantaged communities.”

Relay is another component of the destroy-public-education infrastructure that mirrors Professor Noliwe Rooks’ definition of segrenomics; “the business of profiting specifically from high levels of racial and economic segregation.”

Founding Relay Graduate School of Education

Relay’s foundation was laid when the Dean of City University of New York’s Hunter College school of education, David Steiner, was approached by Norman Atkins of Uncommon Schools, David Levin of KIPP charter schools, and Dacia Toll of Achievement First charter schools. Dean Steiner agreed to establish the kind of Teacher Preparation program at Hunter College that these three charter industry leaders wanted. The new program which began in 2008 and was called Teacher U.

Kate Peterson studied Relay for a Philadelphia group. She noted,

“Receiving $10 million from Larry Robbins, founder of the hedge fund Glenview Capital Management and current board member of Relay, and $20 million from the non-profit The Robin Hood Foundation, the three charter school leaders partnered with Hunter College in New York to implement their program ….”

The following year the newly elected and extremely wealthy Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, tapped David Steiner to be Commissioner of Education.

Steiner and Tisch believed that there was an unhealthy university based monopoly of teacher education. Steiner moved to weaken that monopoly in 2010 by grantinga provisional charter to authorize clinically-rich teacher programs to address shortages such as in STEM areas as well as ‘students with disabilities and English language learners.’”

The following year Steiner authorized and the state board approved non-institutions of higher education to grant master’s degrees in education accredited by New York State.

Almost immediately, Teacher U became Relay Graduate School of Education and received accreditation from the state of New York. Steiner’s roll in the establishment of Relay was so prominent that he is still a member of Relay’s board of directors along with co-founders Atkins, Levin and Toll.

Relay Key Founders

Tisch and Steiner embodied a form of neoliberal ideology that the author Anand Giridharadas defined as “MarketWorld”. In Winners Take All Giridharadas explains,

“MarketWorld is an ascendant power elite that is defined by the concurrent drives to do well and do good, to change the world while also profiting from the status quo. It consists of enlightened businesspeople and their collaborators in the worlds of charity, academia, media, government and think tanks.”

Tisch and Steiner both embraced standardized testing as a legitimate measure of school and teacher quality. The former US Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, described Tisch as the “Doyenne of High-Stakes Testing.

Tisch and Steiner also looked to private business as a solution to perceived problems in education and they enthusiastically promoted Bill Gates’ Common Core State Standards.

When Steiner resigned as Commissioner in 2011, Tisch replaced him with John King who had a similar education philosophy.

The idea that university based teacher education programs are a monopoly that must be broken is a farce. It is advocating that professionally run education programs guided by people who have spent their lives researching and practicing education must be replaced by a privatized alternative.

Here in my hometown of San Diego, California we have four major teacher education programs. University of California San Diego and San Diego State University run the two publicly sponsored programs. The University of San Diego and National University run the two private school education programs. Those four competing programs are hardly monopolies plus they meet a high standard of professionalism, something Relay does not do.

As soon as Relay became New York’s first ever non-university associated and accredited education graduate school, billionaire money started rolling in. New Schools Venture Fund in Oakland, California sent them $500,000 in the founding year of 2011 and followed that with $1,500,000 in 2012.

Between Relay’s founding in 2011 and 2017, John Arnold, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, the Walton family plus the New School Venture Fund granted Relay $21,625,322. During its first year of operation, Relay received $10,403,909 in grants and contributions.

Relay’s Organization

Norman Atkins who was and still is the CEO of Uncommon Knowledge has assumed the leadership of Relay. Uncommon Knowledge, Inc. and Relay shared the same address until 2017 when Uncommon Knowledge became Together, Inc, which established a new address but kept their books at Atkins’ office.

Uncommon Knowledge has been very generous to Relay graduate school; granting them more than $5,000,000 between 2013 and 2017. While Atkins remains CEO of Uncommon his pay all comes from Relay.

Salaries

Top Salaries since Founding Reported on Relay’s Tax Forms

Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her piece, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Most Relay Deans were the founders of the Relay campus in their location. There are now seventeen Relay campuses which are in reality little more than a store front or an office. In the last year, Relay has gone from zero education doctorates to four.

Among the Deans, it appears that not one of them is qualified for tenure track at a legitimate college of education. Simply stated, Relay’s school leaders are not qualified education professionals.

When Relay tried for to go into California and Pennsylvania, both states refused them.  In an interview, Professor Zeichner remarked, “Their mumbo jumbo and smoke and mirrors game did not work however, in either CA or PA where the states ruled that Relay’s programs did not meet their state standards for teacher education programs.

Recently, there has been deterioration in the leadership at some Relay campuses. While in 2017, they all had deans, three no longer do.

In Memphis, founding Dean Michelle Armstrong left Relay to be coordinator of instructional support at the Pyramid Peak Foundation. In Nashville, founding Dean Linda Lenz has departed and so has founding Dean Jennifer Francis of New Orleans. It appears that none of the “deans” have been replaced at their respective campuses.

Teach like it is 1885

Seton Hall’s Danial Katz described the program of studies, “Relay’s ‘curriculum’ mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the ‘no excuses’ brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.”

A good reference for understanding where the Relay theory of education spawned is Elizabeth Green’s Building A+ Better Teacher. Green is definitely a member of “MarketWorld” and she venerates the no-excuses charter founders, but her closeness to them provided her with deep information about these schools and the thinking of their founders.

Green notes that Doug Lamov, the author of Teach Like a Champion(TLC), was part of a new class of educators “from the world of educational entrepreneurs.” Green observed,

Instead of epistemology, child psychology, and philosophy, their obsessions were data-based decision making, start-ups, and ‘disruption.’ They were more likely to know the name of Eric Hanushek, the economist who invented the value-added teacher evaluation model, than Judy Lanier.”

Doug Lamov decided to create a common taxonomy that Green described as “an organized breakdown of all the little details that helped great teachers excel.”  His list of techniques expanded to 49 and that became TLC. It was a behaviorist approach to classroom management and teaching. Some of the techniques are fine but the relentless application in a no-excuses environment stunts student creativity and need to know.

Most trained professional educators find Lemov’s teaching theory regressive. Jennifer Berkshire published a post by Layla Treuhaft-Ali. Under the title “Teach Like its 1885.” Layla wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.”

Relay’s curriculum focuses on studying TLC through videos like this one. There is no lecture hall and no academic study of education. It is a 100% technical approach to building teachers who follow a script and teach their students to respond to cues.

Some Last Words

More from Professor Zeichner,

“Relay teachers work exclusively with ‘other people’s children’ and provide the kind of education that Relay staff would never accept for their own children. The reason that I use Lisa Delpit’s term ‘other people’s children’ here is to underline the point that few if any Relay staff and advocates for the program in the policy community would accept a Relay teacher for their own children. Most parents want more than a focus on standardized test scores for their children and this measure becomes the only definition of success in schools attended by students living in poverty.”

Relay practices the pedagogy of poverty and as Martin Haberman says,

“In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their intrinsic value rather than to foster learning.”

TNTP Making Big Bucks from the Destroy Public Education (DPE) Movement

13 Jan

By T. Ultican 1/13/2018

When TNTP comes to town, public school is targeted for education disruption. Clayton Christiansen probably thinks that is a good thing, but rational people who never went to Harvard correctly recognize that children need stability. TNTP tills the soil of privatization by undermining teacher professionalism and preaching a gospel of test-centric pedagogy.

Originally called The New Teachers Project, but like American Telephone and Telegraph becoming AT&T, they fancy TNTP.

In 2001 the TNTP web page described their founding:

“The New Teacher Project was formed in 1997 as a spin-off of Teach For America, …. Teach For America (TFA) has successfully recruited thousands of individuals into teaching in urban and rural areas, …. Wendy Kopp, the Founder and President of Teach For America, recognized the need for school districts to be able to replicate these effective recruiting and training practices. In this way, school districts could fill their classrooms with high quality teachers and begin to reduce teacher turnover. She established The New Teacher Project to address these very needs and promptly recruited Michelle Rhee to head up the new company.” (emphasis added)

In order to believe this, one must believe that a five-week course in the summer trumps a year at a college of education with at least a semester of supervised student teaching. It is also unlikely that significant numbers of these five-week wunderkinds will do much to reduce teacher turnover.

It is curious that TNTP reports their founding in 1997 but their tax returns show the year of formation to be 1995. Whatever the case, TNTP has struck gold.

The Money is Flowing

The big education philanthropies like the work TNTP is doing and are lavishing them with cash.

TNTP Money Graphic

Cash Flow Compiled from Tax Forms and Foundation Reports – by T. Ultican

In 2013 Mercedes Schneider reported on government grants to TNTP:

“Some TNTP initiatives also benefit from the support of federal grant programs and/or private funding. In 2010, TNTP was one of 49 organizations and institutions nationwide to win a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant.”

Schneider also wrote about the TNTP 2015 leadership shakeup in a post she called, “New TNTP President Among the First to Have Her NYC School’s Charter Revoked.” She shared:

“The TNTP bio blurb on Belcher includes a quick mention of her as founder of a New York City charter school: ‘Karolyn Belcher was one of TNTP’s first employees after its founding in 1997. After leaving for several years to found the John A. Reisenbach Charter School, one of the first three charter schools in New York State, she returned to TNTP in 2007.’

“What Belcher’s TNTP bio blurb does not mention is that Reisenbach, which operated only three years, from 09.2000 to 06/2004, has its charter revoked for its low test scores, teacher turnover, and financial issues.”

However, in a country dominated by big money education philanthropy, failure is not a big deal. In fact, by 2016, Belcher and several fellow early TFA cohort members were making big money at TNTP claiming to be education experts. Eleven of them were “earning” more than $200,000 yearly.

TNTP Top 15 Salaries edited

Snip Page 30 of TNTP Latest Form 990 filed in 2016

I suspect that most billionaires financing the DPE movement are true believers in their privatization and market theory of education reform. It is likely that they only talk with one another and have their damaging ideology ever further reinforced.

For the carpetbaggers from TFA, it looks like an old story. Reality is hard to recognize when your personal income is at stake; especially when that income is so grand.

Propagating the Billionaire Sponsored Education Ideology

Lubienski and Lubienski published “Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools” in 2014. David Berliner a much published and widely respected scholar from Arizona State University, wrote of their paper:

“The Public School Advantage is a complete and thorough analysis of America’s many different kinds of schools—secular, charter, and public—and should end the arguments about which kind is better. Chris and Sarah Lubienski provide both the data and the clear explanations needed to understand the many false claims made about the superiority of schools that are not public. The result is a ringing endorsement of public school achievement.”

An excerpt from the Lubienski’s book was published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in an anthology called “Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms.” Writing about researchers supporting market based reform and privatization they observe, “These … groups … having quite often declined or failed to pass their pro-market research findings through established, peer-reviewed academic journals, instead create alternative venues publishing and promoting their work – a strategy not unlike what is employed by corporate-funded deniers of climate change.” They also note that many authoritative claims about education are often little more the press releases with no evidence.

TNTP produced quasi-academic research papers like those described by Lubienski and Lubienski. A 2012 example is called “The Irreplaceables.” The paper defines the “irreplaceables” as the “top 20% of teachers in studied districts, as gauged by district data.” The gauge used is value added measures (VAM).

VAM has been widely discredited. By 2014, even the American Statistical Association weighed in with a paper concluding,

“The VAM scores themselves have large standard errors, even when calculated using several years of data. These large standard errors make rankings unstable, even under the best scenarios for modeling.”

 “The Irreplaceables” was not peer reviewed, but Bruce D. Baker a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers wrote a review for the NEPC. Professor Baker asked, “Among those 2005-06 Irreplaceables, how do they reshuffle between 2006-07 & 2007-08? His answer is in the graphic below.

Baker Graph

Professor Bruce Baker’s Graph

Professor Baker amusingly explains,

“Hmm… now they’re moving all over the place. A small cluster do appear to stay in the upper right. But, we are dealing with a dramatically diminishing pool of the persistently awesome here.  And I’m not even pointing out the number of cases in the data set that are simply disappearing from year to year. Another post – another day.

“From 2005-2010: Of the thousands of teachers for whom ratings exist for each year, there are 14 in math and 5 in ELA that stay in the top 20% for each year! Sure hope they don’t leave!”

Another poor paper by TNTP was called the “Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness.” This paper made a significant contribution to the attack on teachers. The authors define the “Widget Effect:”

“The Widget Effect describes the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher. This decades-old fallacy fosters an environment in which teachers cease to be understood as individual professionals, but rather as interchangeable parts.”

It was a follow-on report from the earlier “Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming the Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts.” That report had generated a wide spate of teacher bashing in California as the following headlines and comments demonstrate.

September 29, 2006

Los Angeles Times

Escape Hatch for Incompetent Teachers Closed

“The New York nonprofit group New Teacher Project found in a November 2005 study of five districts including San Diego Unified that administrators had little discretion in filling roughly 40% of their vacancies because of union rules. Researchers also found that poorly performing teachers were transferring from school to school.”

September 10, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle

California Schools May Get Break from Bad Teachers

‘”There are a lot of states watching what’s happening in California, and I think it’ll have significant ramifications nationwide,’ said Michelle Rhee, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit group that worked on the Scott bill.”

September 1, 2006

San Jose Mercury News

State Needs ‘Lemon’ Law For

“Scott’s bill could slow down the “dance of the lemons” — the annual migration of a minority of veteran teachers who either were burned out or who didn’t get along. They agreed to take voluntary transfers and gravitated to low-performing schools, where principals were desperate and parents less vigilant.”

The “Widget Effect,” faulted the fact that less than 1% of veteran teachers in America were evaluated as ineffective. The report called for multiple teacher evaluation inputs including the use of VAM. Arne Duncan, the new US Secretary of Education made the VAM component a requirement for winning Race to the Top school grants.

In 2017, two researchers looked into the effect of widely implementing the “Widget Effect” policy recommendations. In Revisiting the Widget Effect – by Matthew A. Kraft, Brown University and Allison F. Gilmour, Vanderbilt University, they state:

“In 2009, The New Teacher Project (TNTP)’s The Widget Effect documented the failure to recognize and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. We revisit these findings by compiling teacher performance ratings across 24 states that adopted major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. In the vast majority of these states, the percentage of teachers rated Unsatisfactory remains less than 1%. However, the full distributions of ratings vary widely across states with 0.7% to 28.7% rated below Proficient and 6% to 62% rated above Proficient.”

Nothing changed with unsatisfactory ratings, but TNTP had clearly shown to be a major player in the world of education policy. They seemed to have gained greater influence on teacher evaluations than UCLA, University of Texas and Columbia University’s Teachers College combined.

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is a former middle- and high-school mathematics teacher who received her Ph.D. in 2002 from Arizona State University in the Division of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with an emphasis on Research Methods. She commented in a blog for NEPC about the “Widget Effect” driven policies in New Mexico. Writing:

“While Kraft and Gilmour assert that ‘systems that place greater weight on normative measures such as value-added scores rather than…[just]…observations have fewer teachers rated proficient’ …, I highly doubt this purely reflects New Mexico’s “commitment to putting students first.”

New Mexico Bell Curve Evaluation

Professor Amrein-Beardsley’s Graphic

“I also highly doubt that, as per New Mexico’s acting Secretary of Education, this was ‘not … designed with quote unquote end results in mind.’ That is, ‘the New Mexico Public Education Department did not set out to place any specific number or percentage of teachers into a given category.’ If true, it’s pretty miraculous how this simply worked out as illustrated… This is also at issue in the lawsuit in which I am involved in New Mexico, in which the American Federation of Teachers won an injunction in 2015 that still stands today ….”

During my fifteen years as a classroom teacher, I observed that the students do a pretty good job of getting rid of poor teachers. Teaching is a demanding job and the ability to deal with students is not a gift that everyone has. Fifty percent of teachers quit the profession within the first five years and that significantly reduces the number teachers who should not be there. Good administrators get rid of the rest before they achieve full contractual rights. It makes perfect sense to me that less than 1% of teachers are evaluated as unsatisfactory.

Besides Pseudo-Academic Studies TNTP Undermines Teacher Professionalism

By 2001, TNTP was humming along. On its web site the advertising stated:

“We leverage the highly successful strategies of Teach For America to recruit, select and develop new teachers for difficult-to-staff school districts.”

“We create and run high-quality alternate routes to attract and prepare exceptionally talented people from non-traditional backgrounds to teach, particularly for high need areas and hard-to-staff schools.”

“We set up and run pre-service training institutes for high-achieving individuals without prior education backgrounds.”

The theory seems to be that anyone who went to college or worked in certain fields can teach. All that is required is a little summer training and “high-achieving individuals” will be good to go.

The new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, seemed to embrace this ideology when he visited Columbia University Teachers College in 2009. He said,

“More than half of tomorrow’s teachers will be trained at colleges of education. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that schools and departments of education produce about 220,000 certified teachers a year. Now I am all in favor of expanding high-quality alternative certificate routes, like High Tech High, the New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and teacher residency programs. But these promising alternative programs produce fewer than 10,000 teachers per year.” (emphasis added)

Conclusion

Instead of relying on our amazing stable of genuine scholars doing the hard work of researching, studying, practicing and writing, we are being bamboozled into adopting the theories of neophytes that would never bite the hand of their paymasters. If TNTP has a contract with a school district, it is certain that district is a target for privatization.

TNTP is important for the DPE movement. It produces papers that undermine teacher professionalism and it works to circumvent proven teacher training led by universities. It also works to gain control of pedagogy in a way that narrows curriculum. Why? It is all about cutting costs and business transactions. It does not improve the quality of education in America; it harms it.

No Excuses Schools: Bad Theory Created by Amateurs

4 Sep

By Thomas Ultican 9/4/2021

Vanderbilt Professor Joanne Golann recently published Scripting the Moves. It is a book which expands on her research into no-excuses charter schools. Beginning in March of 2012, Golann spent 18-months doing an ethnographic study of a representative school employing the no-excuses approach. She discovered many unintended consequences.

In 2019, the leader of the Ascend Charters, Steven Wilson, wrote,

“And even when No Excuses was best realized at Ascend, its ceaseless structure was doing little to prepare our students to function autonomously in college and beyond.”

“Princeton sociologist Joanne Golann, in a groundbreaking ethnography of one high-achieving No Excuses school, identifies the “paradox” of the school’s success: ‘Even in a school promoting social mobility, teachers still reinforce class-based skills and behaviors. Because of these schools’ emphasis on order as a prerequisite to raising test scores,’ she argues, teachers end up stressing behaviors that would undermine middle-class students’ success.”

“Golann ends by asking: ‘Can urban schools encourage assertiveness, initiative, and ease while also ensuring order and achievement? Is there an alternative to a no-excuses disciplinary model that still raises students’ tests scores?”’

It is not just Ascend. In an August 2021 post at Princeton Press, Professor Golann reported,

“In March, Noble, the largest charter network in Chicago, apologized to its alumni for its ‘assimilationist, patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-black’ discipline practices. Last June, Achievement First promised not to ‘be hyper-focused on students’ body positioning,’ and ended its requirement for students to sit with their hands folded at their desks. KIPP, the nation’s largest charter school network, retired its founding motto, ‘Work hard. Be nice,’ explaining that it ‘ignores the significant effort required to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.’ (KIPP began plans to change the motto in 2019.)*

“The Wall Street Journal described KIPP’s statement as ‘woke nonsense.’”

Bad Practices at No-Excuses Charters Came from Amateur Founders and Funders

Perhaps the best known no-excuses charter schools are the KIPP schools. Two Yale graduates David Levin and Michael Feinberg founded KIPP in 1994. They were both members of Wendy Kopp’s third cadre of Teach for America (TFA) teachers who had five weeks of training; no education classes and no teaching experience. After the founding, Feinberg stayed in Texas to run KIPP Houston. Levin moved back to New York and founded KIPP Academy in the South Bronx.

To put it succinctly, two guys with recently minted bachelor degrees and a 5-week summer seminar founded the first no-excuses charter school.

 Professor Golann explained how they gravitated to the model,

“After a difficult first year struggling with classroom management, Levin and Feinberg were beginning to improve. They attributed their success to intensively studying and imitating the methods of effective teachers in their schools. Their most influential mentor was Harriett Ball, a charismatic and celebrated forty-six-year-old African American teacher who stood over six feet tall and who worked down the hallway from Levin. From Ball, Levin learned that what worked, in addition to songs and chants, was ‘instant and overwhelming response to any violation of the rules.’” (Scripted page 120)

The story of KIPP’s growth is intertwined with another no-excuses school founder, Stacy Boyd. She was working for Chris Whistle’s Edison Project when a Boston dentist selected her to be the founding principal of the Academy of the Pacific Rim (APR). Boyd hired her friend Doug Lemov to teach at the school that she ran while also finishing her MBA. When Boyd married Scott Hamilton and moved to San Francisco, Lemov took over at APR.

Scott and Stacy met while working at the Edison Project. They were moving to San Francisco because Hamilton was now working for two of the richest people in the country, GAP founders, Don and Doris Fisher.

It was 1999 and “sixty minutes” did a puff piece on KIPP. All of the sudden the possibility of going national arose. Feinberg’s first call was to his friend Stacy Boyd who knew something about developing large organizations. Stacy’s husband Scott sold the Fishers on creating business fellowships for KIPP school founders who would take the brand nationwide.  

The San Francisco billionaires who are obviously astute business people started pouring money into an education system being developed by people with limited knowledge and experience. They would have never turned over leadership at the GAP to people with little background and limited experience. Somehow, many of America’s financial elites believe that they understand education well enough to know how to improve it, and don’t recognize that they are amateurs.

Besides no-excuses charter schools, billionaire education amateurs have spent lavishly to finance TFA. At the beginning of the millennium TFA was struggling, but then the money started flowing. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider recounted, 

“Despite the financial and organizational issues and bad press, Kopp managed to scrape by and carry TFA with her into the new millennium. TFA faced insolvency a number of times – until corporations and foundations began funneling money into the struggling organization. In 2001, TFA’s net assets totaled over $35 million. By 2005, TFA’s net assets totaled over $105 million. Finally, by 2010, TFA’s net assets had increased almost tenfold from 2001 to $350 million. And in 2011, the Walton Family Foundation gave TFA $49.5 million ‘to help double the size of Teach for America’s national teaching corps over the next three years.” (Chronicle page 47)

TFA teachers are unqualified to lead a classroom. However, Professor Golann notes, “It is not that Dream Academy did not have the option of hiring more seasoned teachers; they deliberately chose not to do so, which may be surprising given that teachers significantly improve in effectiveness during their first years of teaching.” (Scripted page 139) Teachers with experience and training were not as likely to embrace their no-excuses scheme. (Dream Academy is the pseudonym Golann chose for the school in which she was embedded.)

Stacy Boyd’s friend, Doug Lemov, started gathering no-excuses techniques and wrote them into a book called Teach Like a Champion. Today, this compendium of methods serves as a handbook for no-excuses schools. One of the main objectives of the handbook is efficiency. It brings the early 1900s Taylorism into the classroom.

In the post “Teach Like its 1885.” published on Jenifer Berkshire’s blog, Layla Treuhaft-Ali wrote, “Placed in their proper racial context, the Teach Like A Champion techniques can read like a modern-day version of the *Hampton Idea,* where children of color are taught not to challenge authority under the supervision of a wealthy, white elite.” In addition to its racist implementation, the no-excuses model certainly elicits images of 19th century school discipline.

No-excuses Model a Disaster in Public Schools

The Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) was launched in 2011 by the Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, a TFA alum and for a short time Michelle Rhee’s husband. He brought in fellow TFA alum Chris Barbic – the founder of the no-excuses charter school YES Prep – to run ASD. Golann observed,

“Unlike typical no-excuses charters, in which families must apply and agree to certain commitments, these charters had to accept all students from the zoned neighborhood, which resulted in low levels of commitment from families to the school’s disciplinary practices, along with a student population that the school was unprepared to serve (e.g., students with special needs, students with high levels of residential mobility).  (Scripted page 173)

By 2016, the lofty goal of raising the bottom scoring 5% of the state’s schools into the top 25% was a complete flop. Even with concentrated test prep, most of the schools were still in the bottom 5%.

Some Conclusions

Two important points:

  1. On page 64 of her book, Golann references University of California San Diego Professor Hugh ‘Bud’ Mehan. From the two graduate school classes I had with Bud, I learned something about what good ethnographic studies looked like and it is clear that Golann’s scholarship is excellent. The book is well written and takes the reader inside the study. Anyone interested in education policy would profit from reading it.
  2. Without the unbelievably large amounts of money being spent by billionaire amateurs to drive education policy, there would be no TFA or no-excuses charter schools.

I will end with one last quote from Professor Joanne Golann’s Scripting the Moves:

‘“Ultimately no-excuses charters schools are a failed solution to a much larger social problem,’ education scholar Maury Nation has argued. ‘How does a society address systemic marginalization and related economic inequalities? How do schools mitigate the effects of a system of White supremacy within which schools themselves are embedded?’ Without attending to these problems, we will not solve the problems of educational inequality. ‘As with so many school reforms,’ Nation argues, ‘no-excuses discipline is an attempt to address the complexities of these problems, with a cheap, simplistic, mass-producible, ‘market-based’ solution.’” (Scripting page 174)

Saint Louis School Board Stalls Privatization Agenda

24 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/24/2021

The August 19th headline in the Saint-Louis Post Dispatch reported a new plan “sparks school board outrage.”The board accused Better Futures STL of trying to usurp its role. Better Futures soon cancelled the launch of its new program and Superintendent Kelvin Adams apologized for not sharing the extent of his involvement in a plan described as “a new St. Louis education blueprint that serves all children.”

The Post Dispatch went on to outline Better Futures as being started in April by Opportunity Trust, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, Forward Through Ferguson, WePower and others. Fenton, a pricey New York public relations firm, stated that Better Futures was developing a “community-designed plan over the next 12 months to reimagine an equitable K-12 public education system.” Superintendent Adams and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are both on the new organization’s advisory council.

Kelvin Adams Involvement Not a Surprise

In a magnificent article about the history and demise of public schools in St. Louis, Jeff Bryant detailed the neoliberal philosophy driving the city’s leadership. The hiring of Kelvin Adams was a result.

Mayor Francis Slay served four terms starting in 2001. He brought in Teach for America (TFA) and championed charter schools. When circumstances beyond the school district’s control led to a large deficit, Slay successfully recruited and financed a new slate of school board members in 2003.

Within a month of taking office, the school board voted to hire Alvarez & Marsal (A&M), the corporate turnaround consultants to run the district. A&M had never worked in a school system before. Former Brookes Brothers CEO William V. Roberti became the de facto superintendent of schools. The results were a disaster. District financing became so untenable that the state took over.

To solve the mess in Saint Louis, the state turned to the New Orleans Recovery School District and hired Paul Vallas’s chief of staff, Kelvin Adams. At the time, Peter Downs, president of the elected school board, called Adams unacceptable. However, Adams’ thirteen-year tenure is attributable to his popularity among Saint Louis’s neoliberal embracing business and political leadership.

School Privatization

In 1981, Rex Sinquefield and David Booth a fellow MBA student at the University of Chicago formed the California based financial firm Dimensional Fund Advisor (DFA). Today the company oversees more than $350 billion in global assets. DFA pioneered index fund investing.

In 2005, Rex and his business partner wife Jeanne returned to Missouri ending his absence of more than 40 years. Since returning he has become a major force in Republican politics and has demonstrated a thorough disrespect for public education. Rex claimed,

‘“There was a published column by a man named Ralph Voss who was a former judge in Missouri,’ Sinquefield continued, in response to a question about ending teacher tenure. [Voss] said, ‘A long time ago, decades ago, the Ku Klux Klan got together and said how can we really hurt the African-American children permanently? How can we ruin their lives? And what they designed was the public school system.’”

Sinquefield was a major reason Josh Hawley was elected to the US Senate. Rex also spent $2.5 million trying to get Missouri’s income tax replaced with a sales tax and spent another $1.6 million attempting to have teachers evaluated using testing.

He has consistently championed lower regressive taxes and market based solutions.

On July 31, 2018, Neerav Kingsland, the founder of New Schools for New Orleans, announced on his blog that billionaires John Arnold and Reed Hastings had pleged $100 million each to start The City Fund. Kingsland is the new Fund’s Managing Partner.

In addition to the non-profit, they have also created an associated political action organization called Public School Allies. In 2019, Allies sent $20,000 to Saint Louis’s Civil PAC.

City Fund has spent large amounts of money developing local organizations to promote implementation of the portfolio model of public education management. The portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or Innovation schools. In either case, the local community loses their right to hold elected leaders accountable, because the schools are removed from the school board’s portfolio.

The Opportunity Trust is their partner in St. Louis. City Fund has made a three year $5.5 million grant to the Trust. Opportunity is also a TFA related business. Founder and CEO, Eric Scroggins, worked in various leadership positions at TFA for 14 years starting as a TFA corps member in 2001-3.

The 2017 Opportunity Trust founding board consisted of John Kemper, Diane Tavenner, Maxine Clark and Eric Scroggins. (See 2017 tax form 990 – EIN 82-1838644)

Diane Tavenner is the founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, a charter management organization that serves schools in California and Washington State. Tavenner is a former board member of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and currently serves on the CCSA member’s council.

In 2018, John W. Kemper succeeded his father David Kemper as President and CEO of Commerce Bancshares Inc. Biz journal noted,

‘“He will be a good steward. Cities need good banks to take care of the community, and Commerce is a well run company,’ said cousin and friendly rival Mariner Kemper, chairman of UMB Bank, Missouri’s second largest, with $20.6 billion in assets.”  

Kemper also sits on several local boards including KIPP St Louis.

Maxine Clark is the daughter of Eleanor Roosevelt’s traveling secretary. She was President of Payless Shoes before founding Build-A-Bear Workshop which grew to over 400 mall based stores. Clark retired as CEO in 2013. Since leaving Build-A-Bear, she and her husband have concentrated on civic endeavors. Ladue News reports,

“Among their biggest successes is the launching of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools in St. Louis. There are two elementary KIPP schools and two middle schools, and this fall, KIPP St. Louis High School will welcome its first freshman class. As a public charter school, KIPP St. Louis High School will operate like a private college prep school.”

Clark calls her latest project Delmar Devine.” It is a play on the local term “Delmar Divide,” for the line of demarcation separating predominantly white St. Louis from the North Side, where the population is nearly all African-American. She is using Housing and Urban Development money to remodel the 1904 built St. Luke’s Hospital into a mixed use facility with apartments and office space. Many of the new tenants are part of the segrenomics business selling education services to urban poor. They include: Teach for America, The Opportunity Trust, IFF, Education Equity Center of St. Louis, KIPP St. Louis and Navigate STL Schools.

Business elites like Maxine Clark and politicians like Mayor Tishaura O. Jones are making a terrible error in judgment. The public school system is the backbone of communities and the foundation of democracy. Furthermore, unbiased research shows that public schools consistently outperform either private schools or charter schools.

OUSD, the Digital Divide and Edtech – Be careful what you wish for

24 Jul

By  Steven Miller, July 22, 2021 (Guest Post by former Oakland Educator)

In 2018, Thomas Ultican wrote about the dangers of Edtech:

“Public education in America contends with four dissimilar but not separate attacks. The school choice movement is motivated by people who want government supported religious schools, others who want segregated schools and still others who want to profit from school management and the related real estate deals. The fourth big threat is from the technology industry which uses their wealth and lobbying power to not only force their products into the classroom, but to mandate “best practices” for teaching. These four streams of attack are synergistic.”

Edtech is now far more predominant everywhere today, after 2 COVID school years, which has resulted in the massive imposition of distance-learning.

Back in 2018, Education Week Research Center reported that a strong majority of the country’s principals  – 85% of those interviewed –  felt that too much screen time was not good for students – 77% felt students worked alone too often and 67% felt the tech industry had too much influence over public education.  And now Edtech is being established as the savior of our children.

That was then; this is now.

We all know, teachers, students, parents, communities – all the primary stake-holders – we all know that the new school year presents us with some of the greatest challenges we have ever faced in public education. Re-opening is a crisis and an emergency. So what is Edtech bringing to OUSD? Is it helping?

The education reporter for The Oaklandside, Ashley McBride, wrote on July 20, 2021:

“More than a year ago, the city of Oakland together with Oakland Unified School District and a group of nonprofit partners launched the Oakland Undivided campaign with an ambitious goal: to close the digital divide by raising enough money to purchase laptops and internet hotspots for every student in Oakland who needed them during the pandemic. At the time, public school students were required to learn from home virtually, but roughly 25,000 of them in Oakland lacked a computer, reliable internet, or both….”

“Today, as students prepare to head back to their classrooms full-time in the fall, nearly 97% of students in Oakland Unified School District have a computer and working internet at home, including 98% of students who are low-income, according to district data.”

Sounds like a good thing, a really good thing. The problem with Edtech, however, is not the digital technology. Technology is a tool that can be used well or turned against us. Technology can actually be employed to make schools better, not cheaper. The issue is how it is configured. As always, we must follow the money trail to really discover who benefits.

While OUSD is currently planning on fully re-opening, distance learning is an option. It will certainly be more pervasive in the classroom. Edtech makes its money off harvesting student data. Who will own the data this coming year, 2021-22?  Who can use the data? Do students or their parents control their own data?

The School Board must play a leading role in guaranteeing public policy here.

Chrome books store every single key stroke (and possibly every eye movement) on the cloud, which they own. Google Chromebooks also have a pre-installed program called “Gaggle”, which, we are told, scans student homework to look for depression, suicide ideation and likely various threats to shoot up the school. Google Classroom material is configured to surveille the students. Data and ever more data is the mother’s milk of Edtech. 

One problem is the people who control the data harvested from Edtech algorithms have increasing influence in creating the curriculum. This new private power in public schools is routinely used to undercut the role of experienced teachers and call the shots.

Whether corporations or big-shot administrators, the people who control this power love to spout about “healing the digital divide”. This is the corporate happy-speak that the OUSD school board, as well as their “private partners” and NGOs, traditionally have used to dress up policies that are demonstrated to work against student learning. But “healing the digital divide” with chrome books turns our children’s information into fodder for corporate profits.

Another favorite is “personalized learning”, supposedly something that Edtech will make available to every student and bring public education into the 21st Century. This myth is based on the same type of algorithms that Netflix and Amazon use to “personalize” their services to your interests. The biggest backers of personalized learning are Bill Gates, Google and the Chan- Zuckerberg Initiative.  As noted by blogger Peter Greene:

“Personalized learning, whether we’re talking about a tailored-for-you learning program on your computer screen or a choose the school you’d like to go to with your voucher, is not about actual personalization. It’s about another path for marketing, a way of personalizing the marketing of the product, the edu-commodity that someone is already trying to make money from.

“We’re being sold (and in many cases are arguing against) an AI that spits out just the digitized worksheet that Student 12-5452 needs to continue studies, but that’s not where we’re headed. Look, for instance, at the new, improved PSAT
that returns both a score and some recommendations. ‘Looks like you need to log in to Khan Academy’s lesson series for calculus.’ Or ‘You would really benefit from the AP Calculus course– talk to your guidance counselor today.”’

On March 21, 2021, OUSD signed an agreement to replace diagnostic testing from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium with the notorious I-Ready. One of the funders of i-Ready is the Kenneth Rainnin Foundation, which also funds local Oakland privatizers like GO Public Schools, the Oakland Public Education Fund, the New Schools Venture Fund, Aspire charter schools, Educate 78 Oakland Public Schools, the East Bay Community Foundation, and Education for Change.

I-Ready is based in the techniques of behavioral modification that was fundamental to the highly discredited system of Competency Based Education that holds that children should learn alone and in isolation, taking constant tests to prove their “mastery”.

This reactionary and unproductive philosophy is also disguised as “performance-based education”, “standards-based education”, “outcome-based education”, and “programmed instruction” among others. I-Ready is Competency Based Education on a screen.

Funny thing, i-Ready regularly identifies Black, Indigenous, and students of color as failing. If the goal is to prove that Oakland children are “failing”, then i-Ready is the tool to use. But maybe it is not best to welcome students back and then give them standardized tests to measure how far behind they have fallen.

 Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote:

“The dystopian imagery of a ‘lost generation’ of Black youth is redolent of earlier moral panics: the discoveries of ‘crack babies’ in the nineteen-eighties and ‘super predators’ in the nineties were also rooted in anecdote-driven, pseudo-scientific evidence. Today’s evidence for the spiral of Black children is the tactically vague measurement of ‘learning loss.’ But no one needs to invent a new metric to discover that, during the worst crisis in modern American history, students might be falling behind.”

Ashley McBride describes another facet of Edtech coming to Oakland:

“The Oakland Reach, a parent advocacy group involved with the Oakland Undivided campaign, has been working with Sydewayz Cafe, an information technology business in Oakland, to provide tech support for the organization’s virtual family hub during the pandemic. In the fall, The Oakland Reach plans to launch a fellowship to give students and their families more intensive training in technology and digital platforms, said executive director Lakisha Young. They’ve also been helping families get a federal discount on broadband service.”

Here we have another private power with powerful influence in OUSD. Oakland Reach and the OUSD, in partnership, received a $900,000 grant from the notorious privatizers, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and The New Teacher Project, which supposedly trains teachers, but which pushes privatization. These organizations are part of a complex of billionaire-financed privatization networks like Teach For America, too many to name.

CRPE advocates that school boards should look at schools like a stock portfolio, get rid of the poor performers and invest in the successful stocks. When New Orleans privatized every single school as charters, CRPE came up with “the Blueprint Process”. OUSD used the Blueprint Process to justify closing 23 schools in 2018.

The OUSD School Board, in its grace and wisdom, still intends to close schools as the 2021-2022 school year begins. How many? The Board will announce its plan for school closures on August 16, one week after school begins. “Nothing says ‘Welcome back to school for a restorative restart’ than to tell schools filled with Black and brown students that we’re going to close your school or change your school because you’re not doing well,” said parent Kim Davis during a public comment portion of the meeting.

CRPE has developed a national network called “Education Cities” with the purpose of disrupting public schools. This corporate mob operates in 32 different cities across the country including Oakland, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

From Atlanta to Cincinnati to Oakland, a loosely connected network of nonprofit groups is working to reshape the way their school districts function. Their national scope has gone mostly unexamined, even as their influence is arguably far more likely to affect schools in the average American city than a Betsy DeVos-inspired voucher program.

CRPE also advocates to abolish the political control of public schools by elected school boards. They would be replaced by “Community Education Councils (CECs)”, which would exert “light local governance”. In addition, CRPE advocates for vouchers, what they call “backpack funding”:

A local CEC would have three essential functions: (1) assembling and disbursing funds for each student’s personal education fund; (2) monitoring the quality, innovativeness, and responsiveness to economic change of the learning options available to students; and (3) protecting students by ensuring valid information for choices among diverse learning experiences, monitoring equity of student placements, and identifying fraudulent or ineffective schools or learning providers.

Their essay on funding also discusses students’ personalized education funds, including so-called “back pack funding” that follows students through different learning experiences, and how they can be assembled and managed. The remainder of this essay focuses on the promotive and protective functions of light local governance.

The complex of “OUSD partners” that have banded together to enforce a corporate dictatorship for privatized and semi-privatized education is out in the open. It runs the gamut from chrome books to Oakland Reach to Oakland Undivided to the Center for Reinventing Public Education to the Gates Foundation to Michael Bloomberg, who has bought and paid for several school board members, and beyond.

Certainly, better and more equitable education technology is essential and a public priority. But the way this will be implemented threatens children in Oakland and across the country.

Key question that unravel the whole mess are:

“What are these corporate education reformers going to do with all the data your child will produce next year? Who owns it?”

Every click, every search, the amount of time a child spends on a project or on multiplication, whatever, becomes the property of the corporations that own the apps and the algorithms. They can store it, sell it, search it and configure it with AI, and even… create a profile of your kid that the corporation owns. In May, Dr Velislava Hillman a visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics shared,

“Naviance, owned by Hobson, is a multi-layered data-collecting platform, which until February 2021 formed part of the Daily Mail and General Trust in the UK. The platform has access to a wide range of personal and sensitive information of students. It tracks students as they move through elementary school, college and beyond.”

Hobson serves roughly 12 million students globally across 2000 institutions of post-secondary  education and some 8500 schools and school districts in 100 different countries. It focuses on student “life-cycle management.”

What will happen to Oakland students then when they graduate? Can they retrieve their “profile” from the corporations? What if a student has asthma, causing her to miss school at a rate 7.8% more than her cohort, perhaps taken as “race”, “class,” or measured against the easily developed “Obstruction Index”, which reports on non-cooperation as a behavior trait? 

Perhaps OUSD School Board members will tell us soon whether or not our children’s data will be exploited by corporations. That definitely is the national and international trend. Perhaps School Board members can explain how OUSD intends to protect the information of children – their legacy as living beings – and guarantee their rights to control their digital profile.

We can only hope… or maybe we should force the issue?

San Francisco “Progressives” Promote Gentrification Undermine Democracy

16 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/16/2021

A new political PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools,” demands that schools be opened for in person classes immediately. They also make two dubious claims, “The election process for choosing the Board of Education is not meeting the needs of San Francisco” and “Many large cities successfully use an appointment process to choose a Board of Education.”

San Francisco Democrats Embrace the Open Schools Now Agenda

Neoliberal forces especially from the Republican Party have been campaigning for schools to be opened immediately for more than a year. Republicans see it as a wedge issue that could help them win back suburban women. Carl Hulse’s New York Times article noted that “congressional Republicans have begun to hammer relentlessly on President Biden, Democrats and teachers’ unions to open schools quickly.”

Surprisingly, San Francisco Democrats have joined with the former president’s open-schools-now campaign. Mayor London Breed has even sued the school board trying to force them to reopen schools. Breed explained,

“Families right now aren’t able to plan for their futures. They can’t decide whether to accept a job offer because they don’t know when they’re going to be able to once again have their kids returned to the classroom. This is paralyzing our city and our residents, and I know that this is a drastic step, but I feel we are out of options at this point.”

Seeyew Mo, a computer scientist who uses his skills to develop political campaign tools, is the executive director of the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools. In a recent bid for a seat on San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee, he was endorsed by Nancy Pelosi, London Breed and YIMBY among others. YIMBY is the yes in my Backyard advocates for safe, affordable housing in California often accused of advancing a gentrification agenda.

The Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools’ background article claims that school boards should be appointed not elected citing a 2013 article from the Center for American Progress (CAP) as evidence. The CAP article was sponsored by the Edythe and Eli Broad Foundation and reviewed by Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Both entities are infamous for promoting school privatization.

Political Action Committees must file a statement of purpose to legally spend money. When the Campaign for Better San Francisco Public schools filed their form, the treasure named was James Sutton a prominent San Francisco Lawyer and the principle officer named was hedge-fund founder Patrick Wolff. 

Wolff founded Grandmaster Capital with seed funding from his billionaire friend Peter Thiel. According to the hedge fund journal, Wolff and Thiel were initially brought together by a common interest in chess. “Thiel is a serious chess player and Wolff began his career as a full-time, professional chess player, twice becoming US champion, hence the Grandmaster name.” 

In 2018, Wolff wrote commentaries on education for the San Francisco Examiner. In one piece he declared,

“California is failing. San Francisco is failing. The status quo is unacceptable. The fate of our children’s education is literally our future.”

“But in the interest of full disclosure, I will report that I have met several times with Marshall Tuck and he has greatly impressed me with his knowledge, his passion, and his ideas. And Marshall Tuck has the full-throated endorsement of Arne Duncan, who was US Education Secretary under President Obama.”

Gentrification

The Wolff-Thiel connection and Mayor Breed’s appointment of Sonja Trauss to the Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments has people worried.

Szeto and Meronek referenced Tory Becker the director of the anti- gentrification group LAGAI when writing about Trauss,

“Entrenched online in the libertarian strongholds of Reddit and TechCrunch, and in the real world through real estate- and tech-sponsored nonprofits like SPUR and YIMBY Action, Trauss’s followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it’s only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all. Her vision is Reagonomics ‘dressed up in a progressive sheep’s costume,’ according to Becker.”

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar opposed Trauss’s appointment noting that the appointee must be able to bridge divisions across neighborhoods and ideologies. Mar claimed, “Sonja Trauss has a history of inflaming these divisions, rather than working across them” citing “the declaration that ‘gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price’” and “forcefully shouting down Chinatown community elders.”

Recall the Board

School district parents, Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj, filed a school board recall petition. They wanted to recall the entire board but the two members elected in November cannot be recalled this year.  Looijen and Raj are tech workers who moved to the city last December. They claim the school board was too busy with school name changes instead of getting schools open.

In the original filing, Looijen is listed as treasure and Raj is listed as principal officer. In an amended filing, Looijen is listed as principal officer and the new treasure is James Sutton the same high priced San Francisco attorney as the PAC, Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, used. One of Sutton’s junior lawyers, Dale Bellitto, is listed as Assistant Treasure. In 2015, she was a Teaching Fellow at KIPP Infinity charter school in New York City.

Schools are MAGA Targets

15 Mar

By Thomas Ultican – 3/15/2021

One of America’s wealthiest public school districts typifies the damage MAGA Republicans are doing to public schools. San Diego County’s San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) serves just over 13,000 students in five middle schools and five high schools. With former Republican congressional candidate Mike Allman’s narrow school board victory, the MAGA coalition has achieved a 3 to 2 majority.

This election result advances using school reopening as a political wedge issue. Normally nonpartisan school board elections have been turned into partisan political battle grounds.

May 25, 2020, the former President Tweeted,

“Schools in our country should be opened ASAP. Much very good information now available. @SteveHiltonx @FoxNews

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

In July, the former Secretary of Education declared,

“School leaders across the country need to be making plans’ to have students in the classroom. There will be exceptions to the rule, but the rule should be kids go back to school this fall. And where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with school by school or a case-by-case basis. There’s ample opportunity to have kids in school.”

Carl Hulse’s Feb. 12, 2021 New York Times article ran under the banner, “Republicans Seize on Shuttered Schools as a Political Rallying Cry” with a subtitle stating, “As President Biden struggles to keep his pledge to reopen schools in 100 days, Republicans in Congress are hammering at the issue as a way to win back alienated women and suburban voters.”

The SDUHSD school board election is a case study in using school reopening and hard ball politics in search of political gain.

Mike Allman’s Election Signaled MAGA Politics have Arrived

Michael Allman is a self-described “libertarian-leaning Republican.” He came to San Diego to work for Sempra Energy; is a former executive of Southern California Gas Co. and until 2016 was an executive at a software company called Bit Stew Systems. He received a BS in Chemical Engineering from Michigan State and an MBA at the libertarian economist Milton Friedman’s school, the University of Chicago.

He is a wealthy investor who lived in Rancho Santa Fe for twenty years before moving to Solana Beach.

Running for school board was Allman’s second foray into electoral politics. He ran in the 2018 district 52 congressional primary; a district in which he did not live. He was matched against incumbent Democrat Scott Peters and five fellow Republican challengers. Allman reported $415,109.45 total campaign spending in that race of which $300,000 came via his personal loan.

He garnered a disappointing 3.9% of the vote.

In 2020, Allman ran against Jane Lea Smith and Amy Caterina to become the Area 4 SDUHSD board Trustee. Caterina eventually dropped out and endorsed Allman but was still on the ballot. The former special education teachers and medical device researcher, Jane Lea Smith, proved to be stout competition. Allman won the seat with 7,507 votes to Smith’s 7,181 (42.3% to 40.5%).

Like in his congressional race, Allman ran for a school board position in an area where he does not live. He personally contributed $29,000 of his total $33,333.55 in campaign contributions received and loaned his campaign $30,000. He out-spent Smith who received a total of $14,096.01 in campaign contributions five to one. If the $7,066.88 in independent expenditures by the teachers union is included, the spending advantage drops to three to one.

Allman was clear about two points in his campaign to be on the board; schools must be opened full time for face to face instruction and the teachers union is the problem. Four days before the election he posted,

“Teachers unions’ goals are in direct conflict with those of school boards.

“I will be your independent voice on the board and will work for students, parents and taxpayers. I am not beholden or supported by the teachers union.”

A post by Allman at the end of August called for opening schools and joining his political movement. He wrote,

“The Teachers Union will demand that the return to in-class learning be delayed.

“If you would like to get involved to ensure that our schools open as quickly and safely as possible, please join this group. We have a SDUHSD Board Meeting in a couple of weeks, and we can make a difference!”

Allman provided a link to the private face book page SDUHSD Families for School Reopening.”  An education activist and student mother who was kicked off of the page says that Allman was the key voice and administrator of the group until he was elected. She claims he is still the key voice leading FB discussions in the group but is no longer an administrator.

Of the five people who are current administrators of “SDUHSD Families for School Reopening,” Ginny Merrifield and Alison Stratton seem to be the most politically involved.

Allison Stratton runs a marketing company and was very involved in Mike Levin’s 2018 successful campaign for the CA 49th congressional district seat. It is surprising to see a significant supporter of a Democratic congressman decide to back an Issa-like Republican. She is purportedly one of Allman’s most vocal allies. There are some activists who believe Allman is using the school board seat as a stepping stone to run against Levin for the 49th district in the next election.

Ginny Merrifield is a very connected operator in Republican circles. She is a trustee of the E3 Civic High charter school located in the San Diego Central Library. She was a co-founder and trustee of the private and pricey Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, California. She is on the board of governors for the $750 million San Diego Foundation. Her husband Marshal ran for San Diego city council as a Republican but was not elected. She is a very active and publicly open ally of Trustee Allman’s.

Recently Merrifield became the founding Executive Director of the Parent Association of North County (PANC). The contact address listed for PANC is 5965 Village Way, San Diego. It is a strip mall with only one education related business; Elite Educational Institute a tutoring, college consulting and SAT test preparation organization. Along with Executive Director Merrifield, PANC lists nine directors one from each of the nine north county school districts they claim to represent.

PANC publishes three organization objectives: reopen schools, grow membership and recruit substitutes. Regarding substitutes they say, “Due to a shortage of qualified substitutes, parents have created easy step-by-step instructions for parents to get a 30 day emergency substitute credential.”  

PANC is not unique. On January 26, 2021, Edsource reported,

Open Schools California includes parent groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Richmond and other cities who say that distance learning has been a disaster for most students, and the state needs to push harder for safety measures that would allow campuses to reopen for in-person instruction. The group announced its formation Monday.”

In the city of San Diego the group Reopen SDUSD began posting on their new Face Book page in September 2020. They supported three pro-open schools candidates for the San Diego Unified School District board. All three were soundly defeated by the incumbents up for reelection.

A rebuttal page called Reopen SDUSD Exposed has arisen claiming,

“We are committed to exposing the truth about Reopen SDUSD @reopensandiegoschoolsnow. They are filled with anti-science, anti-vaccine, anti-testing voices. They don’t want our schools open safely, they want them open at any and all costs.”

Reopen SDUSD Exposed admits “not all Reopen SDUSD supporters are anti-mask, anti-vaccine, Q following nut jobs,” but they are aligned with them.

The San Diego Union reported on March 11, “Three parents filed a class-action lawsuit against San Diego Unified this week alleging that the state’s second-largest school district failed to provide sufficient in-person learning and sufficient access to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.” One of the plaintiffs is Reopen SDUSD co-founder Gina Smith.

Reopen SDUSD Exposed Venn Diagram Depicting Reopen SDUSD Membership

Saturday March 13, 2021, PANC and Reopen SDUSD held a joint reopen schools rally in front of the county administration building in downtown San Diego. However, it does not appear that they attracted any local media attention.

Implementing the MAGA Politics of Division and Violence

In San Dieguito, the five member school board now has a three vote MAGA majority.

Maureen “Mo” Muir is the SDUHSD Board Trustee for Area one. In 2014, she was endorsed by the San Diego County Republican Party for what was then an open board seat. In 2018, the board was rearranged into Areas and Mo had a very difficult contest for the Area 1 seat; defeating Amy Flicker 7486 to 7291. In 2016, she also ran as a Republican for California’s 76th Assembly district and lost. Today she is the SDUHSD board President. This long time Republican finds herself in the uncomfortable position of having to support a radical MAGA style Republican agenda.

Joining Muir and Allman in the MAGA coalition is Melisse Mossy who is married to Jason Mossy, head of the Mossy Auto group and its many San Diego County dealerships. Mossy is a wealthy Christian house wife living in Rancho Santa Fe who does not seem to value the public school system. In a promotional video for the Santa Fe Christian School, Mossy says that if she could design a school it would be like this school where for the teachers it is more like a ministry. She states,

“I used to be a teacher in the public school environment and I have seen the worst case scenario. This is the farthest thing from it.”

Allman went to his first board meeting as a Trustee on December 15, 2020. He came ready to cause a stir by promoting four divisive agenda items.

Trustee Mossy introduced an Allman inspired proposal to change the time of the regularly scheduled Thursday at 5 PM board meetings to an alternating schedule of 9 AM and 5 PM. Allman seconded the motion. Minutes indicate that this motion was amended to alternating 3 PM and 5 PM. This change to a many years precedence will obviously make it more difficult for working people especially teachers to attend SDUHSD board meetings.

Allman wrote a proposal calling for a change to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order instead of using Roberts Rules of Order at Board meetings. According to Jurassic Parliament, the Rosenberg Rules are less Democratic giving more power to the chair and the majority. They are simpler with their rules stretching only to 10 pages compared to the 787 pages explaining the Roberts Rules, but that also gives the chair more power to make ruling interpretations. After a discussion the item was labeled a “future agenda item.”

Allman also proposed changing the boards legal council to Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP. When the agenda item arose, Muir moved to make the change and Allman seconded the motion. It would be unusual for a public school district to hire this “school choice” promoting law firm. On the firm’s web site they state,

“If you view charter or private schools as opportunities to improve public education, we are aligned with you. We want to help you make a positive difference.”

 After a discussion, Muir withdrew her motion and requested that a legal subcommittee to include Allman and Ms. Young meet with staff and review legal counsel options to recommend to the Board.

Allman’s big agenda item of the day was for all SDUHSD schools to open on January 4, 2021 for face to face instruction. Part of the resolution he authored stated, “The Governing Board designates Trustee Allman as the Board’s spokesperson for matters addressed by or arising from this Resolution.”

The board made it clear that all board members would be spokespersons and not just Allman. They also decided to start with one day a week in person before going five days a week on January 27. After that changes the MAGA coalition of Allman, Muir and Mossy provide the three required votes.

The San Dieguito teacher’s union immediately took legal action that stopped the in person school openings.

In late February, SDUHSD Superintendent Haley petitioned the state health department for an opening approval. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has offered a safety review process for school districts to request approval to reopen early while still in counties designated as “purple tier” for infection. Inexplicably, Haley announced that schools would open on March 8th before receiving word from the state.

When March 7th rolled around with no update from the state, PANC scheduled a rally to push for the approval, but that day the CDPH officially rejected the opening petitions from SDUHSD, Carlsbad Unified and Poway Unified. This apparently led to the following all too common MAGA style violence threat appearing on the Encinitas Votes face book page.

It would not be a real divide the community movement without a recall effort. In 2018, when Lea Wolf ran for the Area 5 Trustee position, she billed herself as a fiscal conservative and wrote in a recommendation for David Andresen, “David has been a tremendous resource for me as a entrepreneur since we met at San Diego Chamber of Commerce.” This founder of several technology companies who lost that school board race to Kristin Gibson is now leading an effort to recall Gibson.

On her website gathering recall signatures, she lists four reasons why Gibson’s performance is so egregious that she must be recalled: 1) Opposed letter grades during pandemic 2) Voted for $5.3 million Chrome books purchase 3) Approved 3.5% pay raise for Superintendent Haley and other administrators 4) Missed 2-thirds of last 9 board meetings.  

In the votes for the Chrome book purchase and pay raises, she voted with the majority. Gibson, who lectures at San Diego State University and is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, disagreed last spring with a late change in grading policy from pass-fail to letter grade. At the time, Superintendent Haley was quoted,

“There’s no one voice, there’s no one decision that everybody is in agreement with. We acknowledge that. This is a very difficult time and a very difficult decision, we’ve never had a pandemic school closure and, hopefully, we will never have one again.”

Missing 2-thirds of the last 9 board meetings appears to be a lie. Since the end of June last year there have been 17 SDUHSD board meetings. Minutes show that Gibson attended 5 of 7 regular and 8 of 10 special board meetings. Three of her four absences occurred between 1/14/2021 and 2/1/2021. During that 2-week period she was dealing with a family crisis.

Even with all of the school districts in San Diego County issuing plans to open face to face in April, the MAGA Republicans continue to agitate. They blame teachers unions for keeping schools closed but surveys show that teachers and the general public have about the same opinion on opening schools in this pandemic. An article at the five-thirty-eight reports,

“According to a Feb. 11-14 Quinnipiac University poll, 47 percent of adults believe that schools are reopening in their community at about the right pace; just 27 percent believe it’s not happening quickly enough, and 18 percent think it’s happening too quickly. Likewise, a plurality (48 percent) of parents and guardians of K-12 students told YouGov/HuffPost that schools in their area were handling things “about right”; just 23 percent thought they were being too restrictive, while 19 percent thought they were taking too many risks. And educators are pretty happy too: 63 percent in the Hart Research/AFT poll said their school system has struck a good balance on the issue. Fifteen percent said that their school system had not done enough to resume in-person instruction, while 16 percent said it had gone too far to do so.”

Maybe rich people like Mike Allman and the former Secretary of Education, think teachers and students should take the risk and get back in school. But “little flare-ups or hot spots” are existential threats for many teachers and school staff. Now that vaccines are rolling out and schools are announcing reopening plans it seems foolish to rush it. Schools finally have the resources needed for a safe reopening and the staffs have vaccines being distributed that make them safer. Getting school open by May 1 is reasonable and prudent. Teachers, staff and students are not endangered unnecessarily.

Education with the Biden Team

16 Jan

By Thomas Ultican 1/16/2021 – Updated 1/19/2021

Joe Biden has garnered wide spread praise for his choice of Miguel Cardona as Secretary of Education; maybe too wide. The co-founder of Bellwether Education, Andrew Rotherham says Cardona is “a Goldilocks on charter schools.”  However, Goldilocks was a fairy tale and Rotherham is a well known neoliberal who campaigns for “school choice.”

At the Democratic convention in 2008, the largest groups of delegates cheering the loudest for their new standard bearers were teachers. They saw in Barack Obama and Joe Biden leaders who would end the destructive nightmare, No Child Left Behind. Linda Darling-Hammond the progressive education scholar advising Obama was viewed as someone who would bring professional sanity to national education policy and end the unjustifiable attacks on public schools and their teachers.

They were not aware of a pre-convention seminar billed “Ed Challenge for Change.” This seminar sponsored by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and real estate mogul Eli Broad included a new group of young wealthy hedge fund managers named Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). They had previously established a relationship with Senator Barak Obama. He seemed to share their ideas on education issues like charter schools, performance pay, and accountability. DFER, Gates and Broad viewed Darling-Hammond as a touchy-feely anti-accountability figure and believed she would destroy any chance that Obama would follow through on any of their education reform initiatives.

The seminar group began subjecting Darling-Hammond to withering criticism. They championed the non-traditional (meaning no education background) leader of the Chicago school system, Arne Duncan, to be the next Secretary of Education. Darling-Hammond was berated as favoring the status quo in education policy for her criticisms of alternative teacher certification programs like Teach For America (TFA) and was seen as too aligned with teachers’ unions. The education scholar was sent back to California without a government role and Obama’s basketball playing buddy joined the Obama-Biden administration.

Now, Joe Biden has chosen a person with an education background to lead the department of education but his experience running large organizations is almost non-existent. He was assistant superintendent of a school district with less than 9,000 students from 2013 to 2019. He then became Education Commissioner of Connecticut. That system serves less than 530,000 students. His primary strength seems to be he has not engaged with the controversial education issues of the day like “school choice” and testing accountability.

Which begs the question, will the Biden-Harris administration support and revitalize public schools or will they bow to big moneyed interests who make campaign contributions? Will Biden-Harris continue the neoliberal ideology of “school choice” or will they revitalize public schools? Will they continue wasting money on standardized testing that only accurately correlates with family economic conditions or will they reign in this wasteful practice?

The evidence is mixed.

The Biden-Harris Team

Miguel Cardona will be taking command at the Department of Education, however, there are many other forces accompanying Biden to Washington DC. One of those forces is the embrace of neoliberalism by people he selected to serve.

Dr. Jill Biden – The First Lady is one of the most important members of the Biden-Harris team in regards to education. She has 30 plus years experience as an educator mainly teaching Community College English. Dr. Biden continued teaching full time at Northern Virginia Community College while her husband served as Vice President of the United States. In 2017 she was named board chair of Save the Children, which works in 120 countries – including the United States – and focuses on the health, education and safety of kids.

Dr. Biden does not have much k-12 background and while serving as 2nd Lady, she did not speak out against the Race to the Top agenda. However, that does not mean she agreed with it.

Gina Raimondo – Biden’s selection for Commerce Secretary is the Governor of Rhode Island and a former venture capitalist at Village Ventures which was backed by Bain Capital. The neoliberal Democrat has pushed “school choice” and billionaire style education reform. Her first selection for Rhode Island Commissioner of Education, Ken Wagner, came from John King’s New York Department of Education. At the time, Wagner was given high praise by New York’s billionaire Chancellor Merryl Tisch. In 2019, Raimondo selected former Teach For America (TFA) corps member and New York City acolyte of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, Angélica Infante-Green, to replace Wagner.

Neera Tanden – She is the selection to be Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden was one of the many youthful neoliberals who were part of the Clinton administration. In 2008, she was a key player in Hillary Clinton’s first presidential campaign and is CEO of the left leaning Center for American Progress (CAP) which supports Clinton style neoliberalism. One of the Clinton emails that were released by Wiki-leaks during the 2016 campaign was a joint report on education policy from Tandan and a CAP Senior Fellow Catherine Brown. In it they informed Hillary Clinton,

“1. In spite of the challenges that remain, the standards-based reforms implemented over the last two decades have resulted in significant, positive change.

 “2. Teach For America … offers a powerful proof point that it is possible to diversify the teaching force while retaining a high bar.”

Bruce Reed – He will be Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Reed’s own bio states,

“Reed supervised the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda. In the Obama White House, he served as Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Vice President Joe Biden, working on economic, fiscal, and tax policy, education, and gun violence. … After leaving the Obama administration, Reed spent two years as the first president of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, where he led nationwide efforts to strengthen public education in urban areas.” (Emphasis Added)

Reed also has served as President of the Democratic Leadership Council which embraced neoliberalism.

Reed’s 2016 advice to Hillary Clinton was also revealed in the Wiki-leaks dump. Reed states that choice in the form of charters and higher standards should be the center piece of what we do as a country for education reform. He claimed school districts with elected boards are another part of “broken democracy.” Reed praised the portfolio model of school reform and promoted edtech by holding up Summit Charters as a good example.

Kaitlyn Hobbs Demers – She has been appointed special assistant to the president and chief of staff for the Office of Legislative Affairs. Demers’ résumé includes advising TFA corps members and interviewing future candidates.

Dani Durante – She has been tabbed as Director of leadership and Training. Durante previously served as Senior Director of Operations at OneGoal: Graduation. OneGoal is a non-profit working to advance graduation rates in poor and minority communities. Its major funders include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Susan and Michael Dell Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Anne Hyslop is assistant director for policy development and government relations at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Alliance is the digital learning advocate (edtech sales) that former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise once led. She noted the new staff’s TFA experience observing it “has been a stepping-stone for a lot of Democratic political folks for some time, so that’s not a surprise.” Durante, like Demers, worked at TFA.

Some Known’s about Cardona

A former member of Bush 41’s education department, Diane Ravitch, has noted:

“The good thing is, first of all, he’s not Betsy DeVos, and every educator in America, or almost every educator, will be thrilled about that. But, secondly, he’s a public school person. He went to public schools. His children go to public schools. He’s been in public schools throughout his career. And that’s a big plus for many people who have been watching the attacks on public education and on teachers for the past four and more years.”

Cardona is a Puerto Rican born in a Meriden, Connecticut public housing project. He was a language learner upon entering primary school. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in bilingual and bi-cultural education and a doctorate in education.

His 2011 doctoral dissertation presented to the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education was titled, “Sharpening the Focus of Political Will to Address Achievement Disparities.” In it he highlighted “patterns of complacency” and “institutional predeterminations” limiting learning opportunities for English Learners. He concluded,

 “Without a focused commitment of political will among educational leaders to make the necessary improvements in academic programs, gaps in student achievement will likely persist.”

From my perspective, it seems that the normalization of failure of the ELL students continues to influence practices.”

However, all is not sweetness and honey with this new nominee. According to EdWeek, Cardona has been affiliated with New Leaders where he participated in a fellowship program. This is concerning because New Leaders is a billionaire financed organization working to replace University based programs training education leaders with a program featuring their own reform ideology. New Leaders embraces the privatization of public schools and the “school choice” agenda.

In a Bloomberg opinion piece, Andrea Gabor gave this advice to Cardona,

“Eliminating or sharply curtailing standardized tests would save states as much as $1.7 billion and allow districts to reallocate resources. For perspective, that is over 4% of the $39 billion the federal government spends on K-12 education, based on 2018 figures.”

Gabor’s piece prompted Education expert Peter Greene to share a compendium of his articles written about the useless nature of the “Big Standardized Test.” He opened his compendium with this simple declarative sentence, “I’ve been banging the ‘Get Rid of the BS Test’ for years, but all the reasons it’s a lousy, toxic, destructive-and-not-even-useful force in education are amplified a hundred-fold by our current pandemess.”

Unfortunately, it appears Cardona disagrees. In 2020, the state of Connecticut got a waiver from testing but did not apply for a 2021 waiver. Cardona sent a memo stating, “State assessments are important guideposts to our promise of equity.” and “They are the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students … are growing and achieving at the highest levels on the state standards.”

This is sad because it has been widely demonstrated that the BS test is useless for measuring student achievement. Their only values are as a profit generating business and creating propaganda to privatize schools.

During his Connecticut confirmation hearing, Cardona responded to a question about charter schools with “Charter schools provide choice for parents that are seeking choice, so I think it’s a viable option.” Hopefully when he gets out of a state that only has 24 charter schools, he will recognize the devastation they are wreaking on public schools.

The other issue Cardona will face immediately is reopening schools for face to face classes. The AP reports that Biden wants all schools opened within 100 days of his nomination. That means all schools open by May 1. If Biden gets his announced recovery package through and 100 million people vaccinated by then, it seems doable. It is concerning that Cardona tried to get Connecticut schools open with the pandemic raging.

A coalition of Connecticut labor unions said in a joint statement. “If selected as Secretary of Education, Dr. Cardona would be a positive force for public education — light years ahead of the dismal Betsy DeVos track record.” That may be true but the labor leaders don’t seem to be in touch with their rank and file.

Nicole Rizzo an organizer for Connecticut Public School (CTPS) Advocates conducted a survey on the (CTPS) Advocates Facebook page in reaction to the Education Union Coalition’s endorsement of Cardona. She found that an extremely small percentage of the 392 educators polled supported his nomination (7.1%), while a big majority did not (92.9%).

Final Comment

At the Education Forum 2020, Joe Biden’s responded to Dr. Denisha Jones’ question will you end mandated standardized testing in public schools? He answered with an unequivocal “yes.” Biden then went on for more than five minutes about why he opposed testing. However as Diane Ravitch has observed, he did not include this policy change on his education agenda webpage.

Jan Resseger shared,President Elect Joe Biden prioritized public school funding as the center of his education plan during his campaign to be the Democratic nominee for President.”  Although he does not specifically commit to ending standardized testing, he does commit to significantly increasing public school funding and elaborates on these five listed points of emphasis:

  1. “Support our educators by giving them the pay and dignity they deserve.
  2.  “Invest in resources for our schools so students grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults, and educators can focus on teaching.”
  3. “Ensure that no child’s future is determined by their zip code, parents’ income, race, or disability.”
  4.  “Provide every middle and high school student a path to a successful career.”
  5. “Start investing in our children at birth.”

There are many reasons for students, parents and teachers to be hopeful that responsible leadership has come to national education policy after a fifty-year drought. On the other hand, it is not clear that the new administration will oppose the destructive “school choice” ideology as a central focus. There are reasons to pay close attention to the neoliberal anti-public school forces embedded throughout this new administration and be ready to once again man the ramparts. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify.”

Update added 1/19/2021: Today, Cindy Marten was nominated by Joe Biden to be Deputy Secretary of Education. I have met Marten a few times and believe she is a special kind of leader committed to public education. This gives me great hope. For the first time, we have two educators with deep k-12 experience running the Department of Education. This article from the San Diego Union gives a good synopsis of her education career. In his announcement Biden noted, “Superintendent, principal, vice principal and literacy specialist are all job titles Marten has held in her 32-year career as an educator.”

The appointment makes me think the Biden administration may become the best friend public education has had in Washington DC since the Department of Education was created. Of course, Marten does not walk on water but from my perspective she is the real deal.